Do we need this movie? Well, we don’t need any movies, so the answer is no. However, the movie being what it is, it’s far from the worst time at the cinema.
So, you know the early 90s animated movie, so you know the story of the live-action remake. Most of the film is beat for beat the same story. There are some small changes (one of which I quite liked, but the rest felt either extraneous or simply unimportant), but yeah, it’s exactly the same.
The movie’s opening is surprisingly quick and a bit out of order, though. It zooms through the animated movie’s first 20 minutes in about 10, leaving out a proper introduction for Jasmine and throwing her right into her moment disguised as a peasant in the market. We know who she is because we’ve seen the previous version, but the movie acts like we shouldn’t know its Jasmine. It’s an odd situation to the point where she calls herself Dahlia, the princess’s handmaiden, one wonders if that’s just for Aladdin or for the audience as well.
Then we get to what is probably the best part of the whole remake affair, Jafar. His introduction and first few motions are far superior here than then were in the original. In the original, Jafar was bad man who did some unexplained magic with a large diamond to find the diamond in the rough. In the remake, he is throwing peasant after peasant into the Cave of Wonders before he watches Aladdin make fools of the palace guards in order to reach Jasmine. He decides, actively, that Aladdin must be the diamond in the rough. His guards end up capturing the street rat, and instead of tricking him as an old man, he reveals himself fully, takes Aladdin to the Cave under guard, and actually makes a small connection. Jafar started from nothing, much as Aladdin is then. Jafar can rise up, and so can Aladdin. Pretty much everything after that is the same with Jafar, but that introduction and how Jafar gets things moving is the one actual improvement.
Will Smith is good as the genie, but he can’t escape the shadow of Robin Williams, which is unfair. Smith is in a different movie, and we should judge him based purely on that context. In that context, he’s pretty good. It’s whenever they mimic Williams too closely (like the 3 rules of wishing scene) that it ends up feeling false. Smith doesn’t have the same personality to make a series of off the cuff impressions, and whenever it does happen, it feels wrong.
The music is largely the same (surprise!). A few lyric changes here and there to make lyrics from a kid’s more more…er…kid friendly. The “Friend Like Me” number is a strong combination of visual effects and (probably CGI enhanced) dancing set to a tune everyone already knows they love. The “Prince Ali” song as Aladdin comes into Agrabah feels smaller and more confined than the animated version, but it’s still colorful and energetic. Jasmine has a new number which feels out of step both stylistically and narratively (the movie stops dead so she can sing it). The actress sings it with passion, but the song “Speechless” ends up feeling a bit pointless and out of place.
Overall, on its own, the movie is okay. It’s not quite good because of its opening, which is confusing and rushed, and the fact that it embraces complexity where it’s not necessary (there’s a lot of talk about invading a neighboring country that is oddly extraneous). I was actually along with it for a while, but the movie kind of got bogged down in its final act that ended up dragging the rest of the movie down with it.
Netflix Rating: 3/5
Quality Rating: 2.5/4